What are mistakes product managers make when trying to get buy in for their roadmap that end up damaging stakeholder relationships?
The biggest mistake I will mention here is not getting stakeholder buy-in. A lot of times we make assumptions about what people want and do not take the time ahead of to understand needs. Speak to those needs and share any constraints. Work to bring alignment across stakeholders. In the end, stakeholders lose trust in the product manager because they do not feel seen or heard. It is important that pre-work is done ahead of time so that when roadmaps are being presented, nothing comes as a surprise.
It seems all too easy to NOT get roadmap buy-in. Sometimes, it can feel like the default answer is always "No" at first, and despite all the work you have done, you are getting sent back to the drawing board.
Some things that help, not in any particular order:
- Go as wide as possible early on as pre-work to understand stakeholders' motivations and identify any possible opposition
- Dig deep to identify the true source of the opposition. Listen a lot, ask questions. Treat this exercise as part of requirements gathering.
- Identify dependencies early
- Tie roadmap item to financial impact upside
- Is the impact estimate credible and defensible
- Is the level of effort astronomical, or disproportionate to value
- Is there a downside, beyond the lost oportunity of not doing the feature
- Tie roadmap to broader strategy
- Are you potentially missing technical or other considerations?
- Have you been transparent and collaborative? Is anybody going to oppose the roadmap because they were excluded from discussions and decisions
- Get exec buy-in in smaller forums, early, even at the conceptual level
- Build a coalition of active supporters - there is safety in numbers
- Assume positive intent
- Seek to educate not sell
- Seek common ground
- Consider earlier conversations as setting the stage and foundation for later decisions. Aim to first not get a "no", rather than pushing for an immediate "yes"
- Give yourself enough time to work iteratively through to buy-in.
Not Understanding and/or Aligning OKRs
If you are operating against different and even competing OKRs then your roadmap will never get buy in. This issue creates the conditions where no matter what you have on there, there will not be alignment because everyone is chasing a different outcome. This is why OKR creation with stakeholders is critical - everyone needs to be bought into the direction before you can cuss and discuss the details and the how to get there
Not Framing the Story with Data
Your roadmap should not start with the actual details of the delivery items. You need to start with the consumer/customer/user opportunities (aka problems) that you have discovered through copious conversation, looking at your product metrics, and competitive analysis. Then you can talk about what outcomes you can drive by addressing these opportunities, THEN show what you intend to go discover or deliver. When you omit the opportunities and outcomes that are informed by your first hand data, then you make all your decisions subjective. This doesn't remove disagreement, but it changes the nature of the conversation to be "ok, lets take a step back and see what data best supports these differing opinions."
Just Saying No
To be clear, you need to say no a lot, but you just cant say "no" and move on. The best approach here is to always refer to the roadmap and ask the question "is this new thing more important than the direction we are already aligned on?" You have to remember that you probably can see the roadmap in your dreams at night, but your stakeholders don't, even if you publish it and you are transparent, the reality is that its not front and center each and every day for them like it is to you. Creating the habit of asking questions like the one above is real important to giving you the credibility to say no to low priority stuff, because you are saying yes to high priority stuff